Saturday, May 7, 2022

Stuck in my Head: Gloryhammer, "Fly Away"


A great deal of turmoil has descended upon the Kingdom of Fife since last we heard from Gloryhammer.

In the summer of 2021, the band unceremoniously fired vocalist Thomas Winkler with a brief, matter-of-fact social-media post just as live music was beginning to make a comeback. Shortly after that firing, a leaked chat transcript revealed some juvenile and offensive chatter between remaining members of the band that included racist and misogynistic jokes. An evil cloud descended upon the land, and it seemed that the former heroes might not be able to save it this time.

OK, I make a little light of what was a serious situation on both fronts. Winkler was an integral part of the band’s sound and was the absolute perfect frontman to take on the role of their main character Angus McFife. Obviously, I don’t need to explain the seriousness of the other charges.

It was also a serious bummer for fans like me. As silly as it sounds, Gloryhammer has, over the years, become a great source of musical joy for me. These goofy guys pretending to be mighty heroes of legend and singing about magical hammers, space unicorns and laser dragons never failed to brighten my mood and put a smile on my face after a horrible day. They’ve provided bonding moments with my son and given me some unforgettable live memories. They probably mean way more to me than they should, and the news saddened me all around.

After a time of silence from Gloryhammer, apologies were made and amends were begun. Then, in November, they announced a new singer, Sozos Michael (Planeswalker). Now, we finally have new music with Michael at the helm.

I intentionally waited some time to write this, as I wanted to give it an opportunity to settle with me and not deliver the knee-jerk #notmyangusmcfife reaction that I knew I was going to be my first response. And it was.

Weeks have passed now, and I’ve listened to “Fly Away” many times. I don’t love it as much as the songs that have come before, but I also don’t hate it like I did on those first couple of listens. Chris Bowes is still the primary writer, so it’s still a Gloryhammer song. The subject – Angus wishing he could fly away on a unicorn to escape his fate – is in keeping with the mythology, but also shows a different side of the hero to go with the different singer portraying him. The song also opens up some interesting avenues for the next chapter in the story.

Now the 800-pound unicorn in the castle – Sozos Michael. Stuff happens, people stop getting along, band members come and go, but a vocal change is almost always going to be a polarizing event for fans. You can look for someone who sounds very much like your former singer or you can take things in a completely different direction. Gloryhammer seems to have tried to find the middle ground. Michael’s voice definitely shows some of the qualities of Thomas Winkler, which I think they had to find. At the same time, though, I think his vocals are more … I really don’t want to use the word generic, but it’s the best descriptor. He’s more of a generic power-metal vocalist.

The reason that I love Gloryhammer while I’m not very fond of 90-plus percent of other power-metal bands is because they had qualities that made them stand out. Often, bands in the power-metal genre can sound very much alike. There’s a formula, there’s a particular vocal sound and style, and all of the bands sort of blend together. Gloryhammer cheekily poked fun at the trappings of the genre, injected some irresistible hooks and melodies, and Winkler’s vocals reached out and grabbed you somewhere uncomfortable. No matter how silly the line he was singing, he believed it, and he made you believe it. Anything that makes them sound more like the other bands in the genre is not a good thing as far as I’m concerned, and Michael’s vocals do that.

I don’t mean that as an insult to Sozos Michael. He’s a fantastic singer, probably better from a technical standpoint than Thomas Winkler. But the better technical singer is not always the better fit for the band. At this point, he simply doesn’t embody the character of Angus McFife the way that Winkler did, and because of that, the song lacks a little “oomph” for me. He’s only been in the band a few months, so maybe he’ll grow into it. After a few weeks to process this song, I’m willing to go on the ride to see.

Ultimately, “Fly Away” is a fun song with a catchy chorus that’s not out of line with what has come before, but I find myself aligned with my son’s opinion on hearing it for the first time. He bobbed his head as he listened and pronounced it, “not bad.” Then a clip of “Hootsforce” played on the promo at the end of the video, and he amended his position, by adding, “but it’s definitely not that.”

We’re both on board to hear more and maybe, with time and more music, we’ll both come around.

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